The English Football League (EFL) faces mounting political pressure to end its title sponsorship with Sky Bet.
This weekend, the Daily Telegraph reported that EFL Chairman Rick Parry was issued a letter signed by cross-party-peers calling for the EFL to end its relationship with Sky Bet as principal sponsor of the Championship, League One and League Two.
The letter cited recent revelations that lower league clubs had been allowed to “take a cut of money from fan loses with Sky Bet”, deemed as the “final straw in a relationship that has clearly gone too far”.
The Telegraph reports that the letter was signed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Foster of Bath, a former government minister and the chair of Peers for Gambling Reform, Labour MPs Sir George Howarth, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Dan Carden, Zarah Sultana, and Kim Johnson, and the Scottish National Party’s Ronnie Cowan.
The EFL was lambasted for allowing clubs to enter affiliate marketing deals with Sky Bet – an arrangement which “was scrapped three years ago but the EFL admitted some teams had continued to receive “legacy” payments and would do so until its contract with Sky Bet expired in 2024.”
The peers stated: “We know that the largest perpetrator of gambling harm is not football clubs, it’s gambling companies who exploit the sport and fans for obscene profit.
“The Sky Bet sponsorship of the Football League means that all 72 clubs are essentially forced to advertise gambling on their shirts, in their stadiums and on their websites – even if they don’t want to.
“This is unacceptable and this latest development is the final straw in a relationship that has clearly gone too far.”
Ricky Parry was called on “to do the right thing and voluntarily begin the process of ending all gambling advertising and sponsorship in the EFL.”
The EFL and Sky Bet stand by the partnership, which was modified in 2019/2020 and guarantees the highest coverage for safer gambling, player protections and responsible conduct.
In light of the government’s delayed Gambling Review, Parry has spoken out against an outright ban on sports betting sponsorship being applied to English football.
Parry maintains that reforms should be undertaken to promote safer gambling across English football, reflecting the EFL’s partnership with Sky Bet.
However, a blanket ban would be ‘catastrophic’ for smaller football clubs’ finances recovering from the pandemic, he has asserted.
The title sponsor of the EFL since 2013, Sky Bet outlined its commitment to continuing its flagship sponsorship; “We are committed to safer gambling – for instance becoming the first operator to introduce strict limits on under 25s – and are supportive of evidence-led measures being introduced as part of the upcoming Gambling Act review.”
Betting’s relationship with football is recognised as one of the most divisive affairs of the Gambling Review, dividing opinion between football clubs, league governance, MPs and reformists.
In the summer, speculation mounted that a soon-to-be-published White Paper would announce ‘watered down reforms’ on betting sponsorships, allowing Premier League clubs to “secure their own terms on phasing out sponsorships”.
Premier League clubs would imminently hold a vote on the future of betting sponsorships, which was cancelled following the resignation of PM Boris Johnson.
The move was criticised by industry reformists Peers for Gambling and Gambling with Lives, who accused the government of wimping out of a key duty to reform gambling.
The final proceedings of the Gambling Review have been stalled by the continued chaos of the Conservative government, which will elect its third Party Leader this year following the resignations of PMs Johnson and Liz Truss.
Amid a backdrop of constant cabinet reshuffles and secretarial changes, the outlook for the Gambling Review to be published in 2022 remains a bleak prospect for all stakeholders.